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Kyoto: the mere name conjures up images of ancient temples, pink cherry blossoms, elegant geishas and zen gardens. As the symbolic heart of Japan — and its imperial capital for more than 1000 years — the serene city is one of the world’s most beautiful with more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Located in west-central Honshu, on the banks of Kamogawa river, Kyoto’s delights must be seen to be believed. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or hoping to experience one of Japan’s famed multi-course kaiseki meals, you’ll find it in Kyoto. Here, a handful of the city’s best hotels, ranging from budget to ultra-luxury.
Best Overall: Four Seasons Kyoto
Located in historic Higashiyama, the Four Seasons Kyoto, a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner, is elegance personified. The hotel is nestled alongside an 800-year-old pond garden, with a glass bridge leading to a tea house which also serves sake and champagne. Featuring 123 rooms, the hotel boasts large bathrooms, complete with soaking tubs and rain showers, while some suites enjoy balconies with garden views. For pampering, there’s a spa featuring Japanese wellness rituals as well as granite hot and cold tubs, plus an underground swimming pool with jacuzzi and wooden cabanas. Several onsite restaurants prove tempting, including 10-seat Sushi Wakon, with renowned sushi chef Rei Masuda at the helm, as well as Asian-European fusion spot The Brasserie, located adjacent to the pond garden. The location means you’re close to popular temples and shrines such as Kiyomizu-dera, Sanjusangen-do and Fushimi Inari Taisha, however, the hotel is so perfect you’d be forgiven for never wanting to leave.
Best Boutique: Tawaraya
A ryokan — traditional Japanese accommodation highlighting the best of Japanese hospitality — Tawaraya is known not just as the best and one of the oldest ryokans in Kyoto, but arguably the best ryokan in all of Japan. It’s notoriously private and difficult to book — there’s no website and reservations must be made over the phone — but once you’re there: perfection. Owned by the same family for more than 300 years, Tawaraya boasts 18 rooms in the simple wabi-sabi aesthetic, each with attached bathrooms including bathtubs, and a private garden. Known for exceptional service, the hotel also includes an elaborate breakfast — with both Western and Japanese options — and features seasonal ikebana florals in the entrance plus a library. You’ll receive warm tea upon arrival, you can request massages and will experience staff standing or bowing as you depart, highlighting the significance of arrival and departure in Japanese hospitality. The location makes it a perfect option for exploring — it’s situated downtown, a short walk from the river and close to numerous shopping boutiques as well as the historic Higashiyama District.
Best Budget: Matsubaya Inn
Only ten minutes by foot from Kyoto Station, Matsubaya Inn offers the charms and décor of a traditional ryokan at a fraction of the price. Featuring both Western and Japanese-style rooms, the inn offers an authentic Japanese breakfast for an additional fee and provides a clean, safe place to rest your head. Japanese-style rooms provide indoor slippers and yukata kimonos and include tatami mats made of rice straw, with some rooms boasting ensuite private bathrooms. While not all rooms provide showers, there is a nearby shared bathroom, although no onsen communal bath facilities common to most ryokan. The three-star ryokan is a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner.
Best Luxury: Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
A 2018 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice, the five-star Ritz-Carlton Kyoto enjoys an unbeatable location on the banks of the Kamogawa River, complete with views of the Higashiyama mountains beyond. The hotel’s 134 rooms are spacious, with sleek, elegant design — and some boasting private Japanese gardens by landscape designer Kanji Nomura. Dining options are several: in addition to La Locanda for Italian cuisine, a bar, lobby lounge with appetizers and full afternoon tea (served by staff in kimonos), and Pierre Hermé Paris Boutique, Mizuki offers four dining concepts. Guests can choose from multi-course Kaiseiki, traditional sushi, a private dining room for teppanyaki-style cuisine and the Michelin-starred Tempura Mizuki for Kappo-style tempura prepared in front of you. For pure pampering, the spa is sublime: it has seven treatment rooms, plus relaxation room, steam room, dry sauna and swimming pool.
Best Capsule: 9 Hours Capsule Hotel
Though its lodgings may be tiny, the 9 Hours Capsule Hotel is an excellent place to lay your head for a night — not to mention a great jumping off point to explore Kyoto from, since it’s just a few minutes walk from Kawaramachi Station and Kiyomizu-dera Temple in downtown Kyoto. Futuristic and minimalist, a series of curvy white pods set in a shiny black wall are strangely appealing — although emphatically not for the claustrophobic. Pod rooms are located on several floors and feature free Wi-Fi as well as power outlets, while separate communal locker rooms with bathing facilities are available for both men and women. There’s ample luggage storage although, of course, no restaurant or dining options. Still, for those looking to check a capsule hotel off the bucket list, it’s a stylish option.
Best Business: Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Located close to the JR Kyoto station in Higashiyama Shichijo, the Hyatt Regency Kyoto provides everything a business traveler might need. Designed by Japanese firm Super Potato, Hyatt offers 187 non-smoking contemporary rooms with elements of traditional Japanese design, including framed kimono fabric, paper lanterns and deep soaking tubs. For busy travelers who don’t have time to explore Kyoto’s cultural offerings, the hotel offers three Italian, Japanese and contemporary restaurants, all under the trained eye of Executive Chef Marco Torre. Breakfast options include both a traditional Western buffet and a Japanese offering, and there’s also a bar with a large sake collection or a pastry boutique for bites while rushing to appointments. After a long day of meetings, travelers can unwind at Riraku Spa, where Eastern treatments like shiatsu and moxibustion are offered. The four-star hotel is a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence winner.
Best Family: Westin Miyako Kyoto
Full of temples and treasures, Kyoto is an ideal, if unexpected, place to take the kids. A comfortable place for the whole family is the 499-room Westin Miyako Kyoto, located in a suburb within walking distance of the zoo and set among Japanese gardens. The hotel offers a Concierge Level featuring breakfast, appetizers and drinks —great for quick, on-the-go nibbles. There are also Westin’s famous Heavenly beds to help lull the kids into dreamland, a pool, a Kid's Room play space open 24 hours a day, and a babysitting service for days or nights when parents want some alone time to explore the city’s temples or gastronomic hot spots. For meals, breakfast options include a Japanese set breakfast, Japanese buffet and western buffet, while all-day dining at Aquablu features both Japanese and American varied options and an international wine and beer selection, plus a kids’ buffet with classics like spaghetti and cheeseburgers. Finally, there’s free Wi-Fi, as well as a shuttle bus to two local railway stations.
Best Romance: Arashiyama Benkei
For couples hoping to spend alone time together, the intimacy and zen nature of a ryokan can’t be beaten. Close to a bamboo forest and monkey park and mere steps from the river, Arashiyama Benkei provides a romantic spot for couples to reconnect. Offering river views, the ryokan provides highly personalized service, with meals served in your room for utter privacy, and a dining staff that walks guests through the multi-course Kaiseiki cuisine (with up to 12 courses). Some rooms offer private onsen and numerous amenities and treats are provided, including pajamas and Japanese-style socks for sleep, a toothbrush set, konpeito sweets, and drawstring bags as gifts. The hotel is a 2018 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice winner and offers private shuttle service from the airport.
Best for Singles: Hotel Celestine Kyoto Gion
Located in the heart of Kyoto’s entertainment and geisha district Gion, the Hotel Celestine Kyoto Gion is steps away from some of Kyoto’s buzziest sights. Rooms are spacious and modern, offered in a variety of design styles, including a tea room-themed suite — where guests can choose teas and be educated by staff — and a Spirit of Kyoto-themed suite designed in soothing shades of blues and cream. The hotel makes it easy for guests to mingle, with a guest lounge serving complimentary coffee, tea, fruit juice and sweets, cocktail spot Bar Oumie, and restaurant Yasaka Endo, serving Kyoto-style cuisine, including a morning breakfast buffet, and featuring a communal sushi bar. There’s also a large public bath and a Japanese garden.